Archive for July, 2021

Is Truth Hidden in Literalism or in Front of Our Eyes?

Last week for those who follow the lectionary the text took us to Mark’s version of the feeding of the 5000 This week we continue the stories about ‘bread’, but I have returned to the storyteller we call John. This week, the crowd respond with the cry: ‘More sir!’.

Indeed, this Lectionary theme of ‘bread’ will continue for several more weeks yet. So, I want to start with the premise that these stories are familiar to all of us.  The people eat their fill of bread. Yet John indicates they are not satisfied. Why?  Well maybe we can think about some of the things we face today for a clue.

How do we, in the 21st century world, receive and interpret the stories from our biblical tradition. This can be a very frightening question to ask and many don’t want to face these questions. I was just at a memorial service for the closing of St David’s Khyber Pass Rd in Auckland and if I was being critical, I would have to say it was head in the sand, scared of the future sort of stuff. Not in the closing but in the unwillingness to ask the hard questions about the future of the church. The proceeds of sale were to be spent on trying to do what was done in the1870s and while it succeeded then it has failed in the 1990s

For me and for many progressive and thinking people this is an important question.
Because the competing answers are so different, it can be very frightening to face the reality of today and it is easier to just fall back on the traditional and the one time successful but it is a denial of the present and thus the future.

In this and the other stories on ‘bread’, all the storytellers have Jesus trying to get the people to look beyond the literal to the meaning and world view the teller is inviting them to consider. But like many of us they either refuse or are unable to do so. So, expressing a degree of frustration, John’s Jesus says: ‘you are not looking for me because you have seen the signs, but because you had all the bread you wanted to eat’.

Jesus has just fed them. They were hungry because of staying on the hills and listening to his words, and he had compassion for them. But they continue to want the actual thing – the literal answer. Like many of us they wanted the renewal of the past. And like today there is no literal answer given, because Jesus argues that it leaves everyone just as hungry as before. They are unable to look beyond the words. That is too complex.
Too difficult. Too stressful. They settle only for what they see and taste and touch.

Like many progressives I think John’s Jesus is a realist. He knows these people are looking for actual food that fills the hungry stomach. They want miracles that will make their lives easier in a rural peasant culture. A culture;

• where food is not always plentiful,

• where peasant farmers had been forced off their land, crushed by the rich and powerful,
• where people are persecuted because of their beliefs… magic or miracles are easier and more welcome than the grind of daily reality.

Let’s be careful here not to label them as backward, dumb or wrong. The last thing we should do is suggest that somehow these people deserve their plight or are responsible for it, or if they only prayed harder, or had more faith, their situation would change.

What John is trying to suggest through this story, maybe 60+ years after the death of Jesus of Nazareth, is for them to look, listen, hear, imagine beyond the literal words. This is an indication that as the gospel took hold on minds across the world literalism began to take over from a metaphorical world view and the fundamentalisms of today would suggest that there is a need for John’s message again today, if we are to understand spirituality, religion and its place in our societies today.

Katerina Whitley, a professor of communication at one of the state universities in America,
who has also reflected on these stories, suggests: ‘The words of Jesus, though based on what the people knew from experience, always point to that which is true, to that which does not perish.  But the people clamour for more assurance than that. Like then we too get caught up in the demand for certainty for us rather than the truth that transcends time and culture. Never more so is this need than today in our so-called ‘postmodern’ society.

We live in an age where the ‘literal’ is constantly struggling with the ‘more than’, in a climate where answers have international or global implications. And the literal seems to be winning. Fundamentalists still ask for a sign, an answer, that is firm and unquestionable:
to the sadness of abortion, to the fear of terrorism, to the problem of disobedient children,
to the rapid technological changes, that baffle them.

In our moment of time, indeed for more than 25 years, we are particularly conscious of this ‘firm and unquestionable’ position, in regard to the questions of difference in sexuality. It is easier to retreat from the world and its problems. Most of us want concrete and secure answers. Ambiguity is troubling.  We want definiteness. And literalism, even as it picks and chooses only those portions of the Bible it can manipulate, gives to the fundamentalist this assurance. I can remember the debates at a 1986 General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in NZ where biblical texts were thrown around like statements of infallible truth as people sought to impose their truth on the Assembled. All that happened was that scripture lost out to its own ambiguity and contradiction.

Katerina Whitley also points out that: ‘Literal interpretation of what we don’t like gives us permission not to love those who are different from us’ (Worship that works Web site 2003). And that too is very serious!  I happen to agree with many that

This confirms for me the main problem with literalism and it is that it does not reveal truth, in fact it hides it. Literalism comes from a position of fear, and is fueled by what is a misrepresentation of religious experience. And when it comes from within the Christian community it is often all the more dangerous and vitriolic. Bishop John Shelby Spong knows about all that. In his book Why Christianity Must Change or Die, he writes: ‘I have had a ‘truth squad’ based at an evangelical theological college in Sydney follow me throughout Australia wherever I lectured, handing out their tracts and publications designed to mute my witness.  I have lectured with guards protecting me in Calgary… (and) endured a bomb threat… in Brisbane.  I have been the recipient of sixteen death threats, all of which came from Bible-quoting ‘true believers’…’ (Spong 1998: xvi).

This all suggests that in taking up Spong’s challenge of a ‘new Reformation’ one, requires courage and will be at some risk. And it has to be said that a lot of thinking people are not prepared to take risks, either for fear they shall be criticised, or dismissed from office, or both. I happen to believe that an ‘honest church’ requires its theologians and ministers to be that – honest as opposed to being right. John’s Jesus was not a literalist. The eating of bread is much more than the mere ingestion of food as nourishment for the body. It is the symbolic sharing of our common humanity, in mutuality with those around us. So, John the storyteller invites his listeners, then (and I reckon, now), to seek the meaning beyond the words, beyond the ‘bread’.

For in the doing of that we are freed to go on the journey chartered by Jesus rather than being caught up in worshipping the journey of Jesus, as do the literalists. Such a ‘Jesus’ theology’ is, I believe, liberating because: it shows us something of what it means to be human, it invites us to find in ourselves the same powers that were manifest in Jesus, and it means we are to be co-creators with God. Now, if we have the courage, that can indeed be a great blessing!

In closing I want to offer something that is not about knocking what was or complaining without offering a way forward and while it is a huge challenge to predict anything I want to suggest a definition of spirituality that might help and make a few suggestions about what that might look like. What if ‘Spirituality’ is the experience of living in the moment of human interactions that are bristling with virtues and values? Spirit is what occurs between souls as we interact with each other, with nature, and with things. It is what happens in our brains when we encounter another person, receive any sensory input and process it, or manipulate tools and materials. Therefore, spirit is the driver of our mental assembly of new responses to what we have seen or heard, or what has happened in our surroundings, and is the cause of all our questions. Spirituality then is the experience of living in the moment of human interactions that are bristling with virtues and values, even if those interactions were in the past, and even if we participate through print or visual media. Many of us would agree here with Dominic Crossan when he says, I can no longer distinguish between prayer and study. If the function of prayer is to allow God to get at you, then scholarship is where that now happens for him. It is where I am at also in facilitating conversation during and after a sermon, it is because I want to explore the idea that the incarnation as a living dynamic theology is to be found in the interactions, in the conversations, in the sharing of being human through language. Sermons should not be a one-way communication event. Why? Because when the right and left hemispheres of our brain clash with one side seeking security and the other growth it is only through the creative use of metaphor that the clash can be transcended. The truth is actually that the whole world is a metaphor for something else. A sermon that explores the ’what if it is like?’ is a healthy sermon. Literalists forget to use ‘it is like’ and we end up in trouble. We need to critique the tradition and we have a growing need for experimental language and thought to explain religious experience so that we can place it in our lives with greater understanding. It must become common sense rather than something to believe or else.


Spong, J. S. 1998.  Why Christianity Must Change or Die. A Bishop Speaks to Believers in Exile. New York. HarperSanFrancisco.

St David’s Closure’

Posted: July 18, 2021 in Uncategorized

‘St David’s Closure’

Today’s address is conditioned by both sad events and events that are timeless, part of history and hugely significant in terms of creative events. I want in a short, few words introduce a reflection rather than make one. And I do this because your refection is more important or just as important as mine.

When a passionate person interested in saving the 1827 built Church building from demolition called St David’s building a Cathedral, I think they erred as much as they endeared what took place in that building. What they did was to expose the heritage of St David’s to popularism and to the world of marketing. And let’s be clear here, this is not unknown today because even though history shows that fewer people value the place of religion, and church in society the idea of preserving historical buildings as a commodity that can be marketed to raise funds is not unknown. Again, the question of materialism and usury which traditionally the church has warned against is laid aside in the interests of preservation. This is perhaps too harsh a claim to make but in Presbyterian ecclesiology maybe not so.

In a traditional Presbyterian culture, to have a Presbyterian Cathedral is an oxy-moron at least and an anathema to the founders of The Presbyterian Church at worst. Remember, a Cathedral is reliant on it having a Cathedra or a Bishops Chair, and many will remember the strong opposition to Church Union in New Zealand due to the desire for Bishops. In calling St David’s, a Cathedral, one could argue that ecclesiological sensitivity and heritage is in danger of suffering from expediency. One might even say that to do so is to elevate the Presbytery to be the corporate Bishop as opposed to the assembly of teaching and ruling eldership who value the collective polity.

However, in calling the building a cathedral we are reminded of what the congregation of St David’s have been saying repeatedly over many years. The Church is the people not the building. And they have been saying this not in defence of their losing control of their building or to make a point of congregational elitism and control. They have been saying it defence of the place a Presbyterian Congregation has within the society. For them the Cathedral was a place where the civic and the religious meet in practice rather than a place of institutional hierarchy. It was and still is in some liturgical sense, the place where ceremony and meaning and service and interaction all take place at once. In the past livestock was traded in many ancient Cathedrals, it is true that they, were places of commerce and civic interaction. In St David’s historical world as a significant Congregation, Corporate Board members and directors and CEOs rubbed shoulders and discussed the world, tested the morality of their economic and management strategies. Community met there and shared values were developed, people played there, people socialized there. In St David’s world the entrepreneur, the social developer, the civic minded, the university academic, the medical professional, the legal professional, the construction industry leaders were all represented and gathered as congregation to talk sing, discuss and play together. The development of the City of Auckland is perhaps a time of its greatest expansion was significantly created by the people who were St David’s congregation. In this way perhaps it was a role akin to the Cathedral of the Roman and Episcopal tradition created by Presbyterians who were of a differing approach to power and influence.

Throughout its life St David’s people, and its Ministers and Elders have served many purposes in the civic life of Auckland city and even the country as well as the life of the church. As the assembled gave time expertise and energy to the work of the General Assembly they changed the world. While town commerce and livestock trading may not have taken place in its buildings, civic ceremonial events were held and they have reflected history and culture in a degree heightened by the longstanding role and power which the church has exercised in previous centuries. St David’s has acted like a cathedral and has had space and resources to sponsor and encourage the arts, be it in music, paintings, poetry prose or sculpture as well as theological exploration and the art of theological praxis. It is also true that whether they are of any architectural significance or not all the buildings are part of St David’s heritage. Again, in a sense more so because of their use rather than their existence. Maybe that’s why they are in need of repair today.

It is also true that many cities would be the poorer without its cathedral and in this case, Auckland would have been different without St David’s, Auckland would have been the poorer without St David’s, not only for its contribution to the growing of the city but also for its commitment to those on the very margins of society, street livers, addiction sufferers, and the homeless. Through its longstanding hosting of and support for organizations like Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, Ala-non, and its commitment to prisoner’s aid, refugees, asylum seekers, men’s anger group and its very effective opportunity shop St David’s has acted like a Cathedral in many ways. Sometimes in its Presbyterianism, more effectively than some Ecclesiological Cathedrals themselves.

And what is yet to be fully understood St David’s has over many years offered New Zealand society, a challenging and brave self-critique of church, religion and Christian Faith. It has played its part in all levels of the church by hosting and providing support for its deliberation and action. Its people have been committed to being a haven for those who are curious about the place of religion in life, welcoming those who can slip in and slip out without obligation. Just ask any family about their connection with St David’s and one will find a marriage, a funeral or a bible class connection. It has also been a resort for those who flee from their churches if they have become too evangelical or too conservative, too charismatic, too ‘jolly’, too predictable and arrogant. Too judgmental. St David’s has been like a cathedral perhaps as a place that in its offering of anonymity, seems a safer space than a local church or chapel. St David’s has maintained a degree of a classic Presbyterian way of worship which is measured, ordered, and yet open to innovation of thought. It has sought to offer intelligent and thought-provoking liturgies, sermons, and music that values congregational singing and stimulates theological thinking.

St David’s has throughout its existence as a parish also displayed a rugged independence of mind. Some have suggested that this maintained an elitism while truth be told, there has been a strong commitment to scholastic rigor and well-read leadership as a way of encouraging a pragmatic practicing faith response. There have been recent examples of contemporary issues where its pragmatism has enabled diversity of opinion to be valued, such as the acceptance of openly gay leadership and acceptance of same sex marriage, as well as a willingness to explore, non-theistic, non-doctrinal ecclesiology. One might suggest that St David’s people as a community have tested the creedal literal conservative viewpoints as part of their walking the Jesus Way with integrity. It has in recent years been a part of the global movement named Progressive Christianity in its traditional commitment, often unstated, to open, enquiring theology, that enables those who may sit light to the doctrinal claims of Christianity but find in a thinking faith and in both music and art a sense of otherworldliness and self-critique akin to a traditional faith. A commitment to theopoetics as opposed to literalism has been something that St David’s has been able to explore within a City Church, Cathedral like setting of anonymity rather than a clublike, familial church experience for those who prefer a certain sense of detachment from the worldliness. Yes, it has meant that St David’s is not a touchy feely sort of place but it has preferred and given respect to honesty, faithfulness and integrity.

Sadly, what has been a downside of the heritage building focus in recent years as energy has been consumed it has resulted in a deterrence from a radical sense of bringing in the kingdom of God as seen in the life and teachings of Jesus – a distortion of a concern for justice and compassion, along with the growth of intolerance and an added complexity to the desire to transform our society to become a more equal and sustainable world. In short it has taken away energy that could have been directed at people.

St David’s despite the perceptions imposed upon it has always valued a society where those on the margins are brought into the centre. This is of course not exclusive to St David’s as many churches are engaged in this calling but City Churches like St David’s have always had a pivotal role to play, thanks to their somewhat privileged and traditionally well-resourced position. And here is perhaps the source of St David’s dilemma. As a result of the growth of suburbs Its traditional member has been largely a white, middle class, middle to older aged congregation, coming in from the wealthier suburbs, with choristers, teachers, elders and leaders often drawn from the city’s private schools, serving a transient local populace and in recent decades an increasingly multi-cultural urban population. To its credit there has been a reaching out across the city but somehow attending a service does seem to be somewhat out of kilter with contemporary life. Many obviously enjoy the pomp of and ceremony provided by the Cathedral model. The Civic processions provided within the anonymity of a larger gathering provide this sense of being part of a larger community and this is borne out by the decline in attendance as the congregation reduces in number as well as in St David’s when the congregation moved away from worship in the brick building. Another example of this might be the decline in ethnic congregational connections, projects and foci of language ministries, while well supported, failed when less anonymity was available. The loss of cultural norms due to the smallness of gathering was detrimental to growth.

So, change has brought us to today but what is this change to be and what facilitates it and resources it? The professed desire of St David’s has always been to better serve the urban mix of people in this city and it has been by a wider participation in the needs of the city and there are a number of suggested causes as to why St David’s now faces the change that closure brings.

The first thing to recognise is that closure of St David’s began in the 1960s, at the very peak of its growth. And that there have been many reasons for that change. One very recent change was the closure of the brick building. Not in its closure but rather in the loss of communal anonymity that has been part of St David’s strength. The gathering community became more familial and possibly seen to be less inclusive as a result, the other was a rise in the levels of intolerance. Since the building closure conflict has been more obvious and thus detrimental. That might sound emotive and exaggerating but in essence a healthy level of conflict has always been inherent in the DNA of St David’s. The issue is in the level of that conflict and its effect on an increasingly fragile community.

Throughout its history there have been conflicts of thought and interest that have been resolved both arbitrarily and otherwise, such as which side of the Newton Gully to locate the parish, where to build the new church, how much to pay for the organ that some of the congregation wanted to bring back from the dissident group? How much to pay for the new church building, what to do about the leaking walls, roof and Oamaru Stone around the windows. How to use the manse at the back of the church, Where the office should be and so on. All logical debates within communities one could say but also the logical outcome of a community under siege from difference. In fact, many of these issues were not addressed but rather shelved for later. They have come to rest now.

In St David’s case it could be said that in recent times the pressure to meet heritage values, and economic viability issues surrounding property in inner city Auckland as well as wider church survival strategies has meant closure is an inevitable and dare, I say it a logical option.

However, despite the closure of the congregation the question remains as to St David’s value as a missional, developmental and future enhancing place within the Presbytery. It may be that the closure is and was the best approach for the future and that will be discovered if and when human community and spirituality needs it.

The issue of the future is perhaps even more complex than we think as our traditional form of Christendom has been shown to be no longer an effective vehicle for the sharing and exploration of Spiritualty as a public social construct or as a congregation as an ever -growing mass expression of community. Congregational fragility has been further exposed by Covid-19 and by required levels of critical mass and community capacity. The questions faced might be; do congregations have to be of a certain size tied to an economic model? Do they have to be multicultural or language and culture specific and is there a single cultural definition of mission? These questions have been debated for many years without resolution which begs the question as to whether they need resolution?

Maybe St David’s is once again leading the way? Maybe once again the pragmatism of St David’s is asking the questions about the future of the Christian faith, is Christendom the only mode of being? Is it time to learn from the past and specifically from the days of the early followers of Jesus of Nazareth? It is time to put aside the theological isms and remember the power of his example that enabled the living through of an empires demise, a religion’s evolution and a worlds social, economic and political transformation with a certain hope of not just renewal, but a new life of unprecedented outcome.

Maybe it’s time to see the closure not as a sad ending but as a significant opportunity for the new thing. I for one shall treasure the opportunity my call to be a Minister of St David’s congregation gave me to make the best out of life until I no longer can. Thank you.

Let there be Spaces

Posted: July 16, 2021 in Uncategorized

Mark 6:30-34

Let there be Spaces

The storyteller we call Mark was clearly impressed with what he was told about the beginnings of the Jesus movement. Part of his story this morning describes in summary what he saw was the impact of Jesus’ ministry. For him, it seems the nature of the Jesus’ ministry was to offer leadership in teaching, and in acts of compassion that brings healing and sets people free from what oppresses them.

This is more significant than it sounds, especially when one reflects on just how complex and energy sapping and big picture driven as an enterprise. Jesus had to be an extraordinary insightful thinker and not only that, have the skill to put his vision and ideas into practical application in his culture and situation.

And we know this can be demanding work. People get tired. They need time out and the prayer time and the wilderness retreats of Jesus tell us this. They are not Gods who can supernaturally avoid being human much as we would like them to be freed from what we know about life in its biological and psychological nature. They are not the saviour’s of the world. They are ordinary human beings who need ‘space’ to continue on.

Kahlil Gibran’s meditation called ‘Speak to us of marriage’, from his popular book, The Prophet, is much loved by folk wishing to be married, and who are looking for a reflection or reading that is not biblical. I am sure you have heard it.

“Love one another, but make not a bond of love:
Let it rather be a moving sea
between the shores of your souls” (Gibran 1969).

It may be that this particular meditation is as well known, if not more so, than some biblical passages.  And good on it, because it resonates with what we know of an idealistic love that cannot face the realities of human living and loving.

Further on in this meditation Gibran writes:

“Sing and dance together and be joyous,
but let each one of you be alone,
even as the strings of a lute are alone
though they quiver with the same music”.

Then towards the end:

“And stand together yet not too near together:
for the pillars of the temple stand apart,
and the oak tree and the cypress grow not
in each other’s shadow.

Some clergy I know add a small rider to the end just in case people miss the message in the poetry. They add or repeat with an adaption:

“…let there be spaces in your togetherness.
And let the winds of the heavens dance between you”.

This is in recognition of the fact that all human beings need ‘spaces’ – physically, emotionally, spirituality – in our busy lives. There is so much to do and think of that we need time to stop and discern a response. And perhaps the popularity of the quote says that getting married is not a bad time to be reminded of this.

It is also salutary for all those involved in ministry, to recognise that, according to storyteller Mark, Jesus was encouraging of the disciples/others to desist, to care for themselves, to reflect, and not to feel they must respond to every ‘squeaky door’ or appeal for assistance. They were not God. They were not the saviours of the world. They were limited human beings who needed space. They needed time out so as to be able to continue on. To sort out what was important.

Our very own New Zealander Ian Cairns of whom I had the privilege of knowing during training and whose daughter is a good friend made a comment as another good reminder of this need:
“This brief passage…he says…  gives us a fleeting but appealing insight into the natural rhythm of the lifestyle of Jesus and the circle around him: times of intense effort are succeeded by moments of unwinding, and of quiet relaxation.  The fact that the intention on this occasion was frustrated, detracts nothing from the attractiveness of the ideal” (Cairns 2004:87).

He asks; Do you have a ‘space’ – a place of peace and rest in the “natural rhythm” (Cairns 2004: 87) of your life, where you retreat for silence and re-creation?

So asks Bruce Epperly, co-author of The Call of the Spirit. When he says; “Our so-called ‘space’ or ‘quiet place’ can be anywhere.”

One of the things I am beginning to cherish in retirement is a re-discovering of the joy and peace of the beach, the sand, at water’s edge. And the sounds and smells of nature. It’s like feeling the texture of nature as I did when a young person, playing on the beach and walking the Waitakere’s.
Even on a cool and cloudy, Central NZ winter’s day. There is a timeless connection. And Epperly also says that other ‘space’ places could also include: a favourite chair or study, a meditation room in your home, a park, or the bush, and yes, the seashore. “The divine center is everywhere.  Wherever our adventure of ideas or geography take us, God is our adventurous companion” he says. (Epperly 2005:79).

And in his web site article:

“Your quiet place can also be a rejuvenating activity – gardening, walking, stargazing, journaling, meditating, praying, writing poetry, or driving in your car by yourself.  Health of body, mind, spirit, and relationships requires stillness as well as action, space as well as intimacy.  Even the most intimate friends and couples require time alone” 

(Epperly P&F web site, 2006).

Many advisors call this ability to create ‘spaces’ in our lives, ‘boundary setting’. Indeed, Epperly suggests today’s gospel story is just about that. He says that;

“Jesus took time apart with his followers.  His ‘no’ to work, even the good work of healing and teaching, said ‘yes’ to spiritual growth and self-care.  His ‘yes’ to compassion was grounded in interconnectedness with God and his followers” (Epperly P&F web site, 2006).

But it is clear also that there is an art and a discipline to finding ‘spaces. It needs to be intentional and it also takes practice. Epperly offers some suggestions as to how we can create these ‘spaces. He lists some as;

• Sabbath time.  Or Take a few hours a week, a day, a month, for silence, for retreat, for prayer.
• Breathing prayers.  Breathing in.  Breathing out.  Remembering God’s present-ness, and

  centering in God’s companionship.
• Keeping meals sacred.  Install and use an answer phone.
• Cultivate intimate relationships.  Relationships take time and require leisure.
• Distinguish the important from the trivial.
• Learn to say ‘no’.

So maybe Mark’s lesson is – Let there be spaces in your togetherness, your living, your busyness. Even your ‘good and helpful’ busyness. Maybe this morning Mark’s story is not about the so-called ‘biggies’… such as feeding the 5,000, or walking on water, or grain that produces at the rate of 100 times, for example. Rather it is about getting an ‘OK’ for the very human need for ‘space’ in our lives.

Maybe we are encouraged to learn to create ‘spaces. And let us all learn to use them well.

“…for the pillars of the temple stand apart,
and the oak tree and the cypress grow not
in each other’s shadow” (Gibran 1969).


Cairns, I. J. 2004.  Mark of a Non-realist. A Contemporary Reading of the Second Gospel. NZ: Masterton. Fraser Books.
Gibran, K. 1926/1969.  The Prophet. GtB: London. Heinemann.
Cobb, Jr, J. B.; B. G. Epperly, P. S. Nancarrow. 2005. The Call of the Spirit. Process Spirituality in a Relational World. CA: Claremont. P&F Press.

John 6:1-21

Bread and Words are Meant to be Eaten

What is hospitality all about? What do we seek to emulate by taking communion together? Why do we place so much importance on eating together? What is it we think we are contributing to?

I wrote this poem as a possible answer. What if we are  ………….

Entertaining Angels

When people flee from scenes of war and carnage,
when people know terror because of violent rage,
where is the place of sanctuary?

When families are split by conflict,
when wounded victims escape from bloodshed,
where will they find a refuge?

Where else but in the wounded healer,
inspired to welcome the asylum seeker,
encouraged to transform the stranger

When we offer sanctuary to such as the other,
we open the door to the child

To know our heart and home

Jesus often talked about food and gospel writers such as this morning’s storyteller we call John,
often put words in the mouth of Jesus to have him speak about food and eating. But from all the studies that have been undertaken on the ‘historical Jesus’, one thing seems sure – Jesus was not a literalist. He spoke so words would be eaten. When bread and wine are eaten, they become body and blood. They are more metaphor than fact. When body and blood are eaten, they become compassionate deeds. When compassionate deeds are eaten, they become as the Holy One in our neighbour.

Jesus often talked about food. As he moved from place to place he would seek rest in a house.
He would make his way to the cooking space because there he knew he could find food to transform his weariness into new energy and purpose. For it is the cooking space which is the place of transformations…

Brazilian Rubem Alves. suggested that; In the cooking space nothing is allowed to remain the same. Things come in raw, as nature produced them. And they go out different, according to the demands of taste and pleasure. The raw must cease to exist for something different to appear.
The hard must be softened. Smells and tastes which were dormant inside are forced to come out. Cooking is a magic kiss which wakes up sleeping pleasures. In a cooking space everything is a new creature. Everything is made anew. Mouth is the place of eating and drinking long before it is the place of speaking. Companions are those who eat bread and drink wine together.
We are what we eat.

John, our gospel storyteller this morning, consistently takes stories from the oral and written traditions about Jesus and moulds and reshapes them so they make new statements and suggestions about who Jesus was. Bishop John Shelby Spong suggests that these statements
show evidence of a long theological development, and are so poetic and skillfully crafted, they
“cannot possibly have been the literal words of the historic Jesus”

(Spong 1991:186).

While William Loader suggests that what John wanted to say was important, was that Jesus is intimately linked to God. So, for storyteller John, Jesus so much represents God, that divine attributes easily transfer to him, in this the most symbolic of Gospels in our religious tradition.

In our particular story, often called ‘The feeding of the 5000’, storyteller John continues to have 
little sympathy for the crowds who follow because of the so-called ‘miracles’. For they fail to see this story is a sign of something more. For John it seems that when bread and wine are eaten, they become body and blood. When body and blood are eaten, they become new energy and new purpose, transforming weariness into compassionate deeds. When compassionate deeds are eaten, they become as the Holy One in our neighbour. This is akin to the Hebrew understanding of the Passover as an event relived in real time. Each Passover is the liberation of people from bondage. The Passover meal becomes mre than symbol, more that mirackle, it is a new reality.

Those of you who are familiar with many of the biblical stories will recall that various versions of this story also appear in all the synoptic Gospels – Matthew, Mark and Luke – with a double whammy in Mark. While Mark’s story is probably the earliest each storyteller tells his or her story just a bit differently.

And this is not startling because we would expect this because each story is told  in a different context, to a different audience, with different purposes in mind, by a different storyteller, using different resources – both oral and written. And then there is our different situation and stories and life experiences…

Mark’s second story suggests a compassionate response by Jesus as the ‘shepherd’ of the people. Matthew’s story suggests everything depends on Jesus’ words and authority. Luke’s story suggests the disciples are expected to initiate action. While John suggests to relate to Jesus was to relate to God as the symbolic ‘bread of life’.

There is still much debate as to the author of John’s Gospel and perhaps the nearest to knowing is a comment by Bishop John Spong who suggests that it is a high probability. that “There was obviously a theological giant in this process somewhere, a genius of rare spiritual depth who could weave together this profound narrative” Rightly or wrongly it is safe to say that this is fascinating stuff!

We also think that in times of high anxiety and stress, many so-called religious people
seem to narrow their focus and become more rigid. The decline in Church attendance seems to bear this out as the fundamentalists seem to attract more attention. But despite the narrowing down and the fervour for a metanarrative or single story the storyteller will have none of that crude, narrowing focus. He paints a big and broad and colourful picture of the one called Jesus of Nazareth, identified as the Christ. The author, through his life experiences found a unique way to tell this Jesus story that contrasted sharply with and separated it from, the other Gospel stories. Through sign and symbol, beyond literalism, and fired by imagination, the storyteller invites his listeners to sense the very real present-ness of God in Jesus. For him, Jesus is “the doorway into God”.

It is a pity that those who seek to defend biblical truth, today be it on matters of food, Jesus, or human sexuality, “so often fail to comprehend the gospel’s message” and distort the story by literalizing it and claiming a factual truth that traps it in historic calcified thinking which affects its authenticity and contributes to further decline in attendance. Gospels by their very nature are living dynamic evolving expressions of truth and should never become and ossified institution.

In the words of Yuval Harari, who wrote The Sapiens ‘A brief history of Humankind’ ‘I encourage all of us whatever our beliefs, to question the basic narratives of our world, to connect past developments with present concerns, and not to be afraid of controversial issues”.

To leave you with a question yet to be answered. Did the first cooked meals help fuel the dramatic evolutionary expansion of the human brain?

Becoming Angels

When people flee from imagination and symbol,
when people choose apathy over engagement,
where is the picture of a new tomorrow?

When humanity is split by difference,
when wounded minds escape from responsibility,
where will they find a future?

Where else but in the wounded healer,
inspiring the welcome of the mind seeker,
one is encouraged to transform today

When feeding the mind of the other,
we open the door to the angel of development

feed our hearts and our sanctuary


Spong, J. S. 1991. Rescuing the Bible From Fundamentalism. A Bishop Rethinks the Meaning of Scripture. NY: New York HarperSanfrancisco

Harari Y N Sapiens, A Brief History of Humankind  Penguin Press 2011